Megg Farrell : An Interview

Megg Farrell is a modern day jazz singer, harking back to another time and place. Listen to her words and feel the rhythm and beat of her soul. 

Megg will be playing a SXSW fundraiser on 3/3 that will be live streamed as well for viewers to donate: SXSW Sendoff Show and Fundraiser and then will be in Austin 

Who are you and what do you do? 

Megg Farrell

Megg Farrell

My name is Megg Farrell and I sing.  A lot.  

When did you decide to incorporate jazz into your music? 

When I started out as a musician I was a singer/songwriter.  I mainly played folk music but in college, I wanted to become a better writer.  I had studied classical theory but the harmonies of Jazz theory seemed to relate better to the songs I was trying to write.  I decided to go to a jazz school in Paris because I was also trying to move to France at the time. After studying I came back to New York and fell in with a scene based around the jam session at Mona's on Tuesday.  They were playing jazz from the 1920s and 1930s and with my background in blues it made the most sense to me.  I began gigging and sort fell down the rabbit hole of doing jazz full-time.

Who are some of your favorite jazz musicians? 

Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Anita O' Day, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Django Reinhardt 

Do you sometimes wish you were born in another era when jazz was at its heights? Or are you happy to introduce this generation to a new kind of jazz folk?

Yes but not exactly because of jazz.  Well, jazz and other reasons.  I often wish I was born in the era before the internet and smartphones.  When live music was everywhere and people understood how to react to it.  When people saw music and danced because that is what you did.  Now, when people see live music (and I watch this daily) they immediately grab their phone and start filming, it's practically instinctual.  To me, that immediately takes them away from the music.  If they stopped and just really listened to a song or two that memory would be so much more meaningful than the crappy video on their phone that they will probably never watch again.   

I wish I could be back in an era when you could wander and stroll.  When you met someone you had to meet them and be on time because you couldn't text and cancel last minute.  You could stroll down certain blocks and hear live music blaring from one place to the next.  There were no neighbors constantly complaining and getting bars shut down.  There were affordable fun neighborhoods not covered in Whole Foods and Apple stores.  Small local business instead of everything looking the same.

When radio stations played good music!  When we didn't know everything and have so many opinions.  When pop music involved live instruments and trained musicians.  I often long for that period.  When life was simpler and when music was respected.  Everyone plays music now, but people seem to respect it less.  Maybe because it's easy to pick up a guitar and learn a few chords on youtube so folks don't realize what it takes to really become a master.  Professional musicians are scientists.  They spend the same amount if not more years learning their instruments than doctors do yet we often get treated like beggars. 

When we play bars people often throw us change.  In this economy, does 25 cents seem like an acceptable tip for 5 full-time professional musicians?  It's honestly rude and disrespectful.  People take their phones out and film us with the flash burning into our retinas, then talk through the entire rest of the show and then maybe shell out a dollar (if anything at all).  That's just rude.  People think that fourth wall is a one-way mirror.  They think we aren't people up there and we don't see them filming us, photographing, dancing.  They somehow think its ok behavior to just leave and not show any respect to us.  They use us and then leave us.  We have no union to help us get higher pay, we are at the mercy of customers and bar owners.  It's these little things that often make me wish to live back when things were simpler.  When you read about gigs in the 20-40s you hear them talk about what the bars are paying them. It is often pretty similar to what bars pay us now.  Except think of how much a dollar was worth then and what it is worth now? How much rent was then and how much it is now.  That's why I gig every night.  I wish I didn't have to.   Jazz is still popular and there are still a lot of musicians playing it.  That didn't change, the society around us did.  That is what makes me blue so often.  

How did you form your band? You have an eclectic group of friends with you and their instruments. 

Well, I have two bands and they were formed very similarly.  I am part of a scene of musicians.  Everyone gigs full-time so we are all constantly playing with each other.  We have jam sessions at peoples houses, at bars, at our friend's gigs.  There is a constant exchange of music.  Over time I began playing with a similar group of musicians.  Sweet Megg & the Wayfarers have a general outfit of 5 people but I also have a long list of guitar players I can choose from, bass players, trumpets, saxes, & trombones.  There are probably around 30 people that regularly play in Sweet Megg & the Wayfarers.

As for Megg Farrell & Friends.  I've been through many formations of that group and hoped to land on a specific 5pc.  With Sweet Megg, I enjoy having options because we can change the people based on my musical mood but with Megg Farrell & Friends I want to really write arranged material and do my original stuff.  So that band was formed out of some of my closest friends. Folks I've been playing with for years but never officially made a band.  We 5 were on a gig together once and as we were playing I had that feeling of "Oh this is the band".  We've been rehearsing cause we all live in Bushwick within a mile radius of each other so we are really becoming a cohesive unit.  

Haha, I guess I’m saying we formed by just being friends.  All my bands evolve out of late night hangs.
— Megg

What is one song that stands out from your latest album that is your favorite? 

My latest album was under Sweet Megg and the goal of that album was to capture the live band sound in the studio.  I think on that album "Here Comes the Man with the Jive" captures that feeling the best.  We did it entirely live and only did 3 takes.  I love the recording of it because the band starts chill and heats up so much as the tune evolves and the energy of the track reminds me of what it sounds like when we play at St. Mazie's (which is our favorite bar to play, come see us there!)

Why play the ukelele over a guitar?

I started playing uke honestly ironically in high school.  I was like "this is a funny instrument, I'm going to learn."  I then realized how great it was a songwriting tool.  Then just as I was getting into songwriting there was this big ukulele revival.  I sort of tumbled into this ukulele world for a bit. I would do gigs in Boston and New York with ukulele groups. I even had followers in France which is how I ended up there eventually.  Made friends with fans haha!

Any road stories from performing? 

Oh my so many.  There was the time I drove 36 hours straight through a winter storm from New York to Austin, Texas with a rock band to try and make our SXSW show since flights were canceled.  That tour was sponsored by Aderol haha.  Or the time we showed up in New Orleans from the road and found our friends walking through the streets of this abandoned area.  We packed 8 people in our sedan and drove into the town. Then we went to a Mardi Gras parade at 5am and were out until 10am.  There was the house party we played in Nashville where tons of dancers came with a keg and we played jazz music while they tore it up on the dancefloor all night.  I've had my guitar player fall asleep in the bride's mothers cabin at a wedding gig after partying with the wedding party until 4am. That was a hilarious morning.  We slept in a yurt that night.  We played a bar in Knoxville, Tennessee that had its own genie on staff.  He had a booth in the corner and he was both fascinating and terrifying.  We've played on a sinking Pirate Ship in the canal in Bushwick.  We've played in an abandoned mansion in Yonkers.  We've been in so many cities this past year its hard to even remember what has happened.  In 2017 we played Baltimore, Washington DC, Rock Hall, Philly, Pittsburgh, Normal, Indianapolis, Louisville, Rochester, Albany, Burlington, Montreal, Kingston, Saranac Lake, Asheville, Richmond, St. Louis, Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, Colombia, Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta, Athens, New Orleans, Montpelier (France, Paris, New York City, Boston, Austin.... its been a wild year.  

What do you love to write songs about? Alternatively how much of your song creation is on the spot improv while performing? 

Well, my original music is always about different things.  I love writing about the truth when I can though.  It is the hardest thing though.  I often write off inspiration from a true emotion but it evolves into a story about something exterior from myself.  But a few songs I've really written how I feel about the world around me.  There is a message that is true from my own heart.  Those songs are always my favorite.  Well in jazz all of the melody stuff is improvised.  I sing the head in usually as the melody that it is written.  For example, I sing a song called Sometimes I'm Happy and it was written by a writer Vincent Youmans.  When we perform that I will sing the melody as it was written but then I will break into a skat solo that is entirely improvised.  After that, the band usually comes in and they start improvising solos.  They will jive with each other and the music may change feel depending on what is happening in real time.  Then eventually I will come back in at the top of the form and sing one more chorus of the melody but usually, I will improvise over the melody and change it much like a solo.  


Fun Questions

If you were stranded on an abandoned island what five items would you want with you? (no rules)

  • A water filtration system

  • A large knife (one that I could hunt with of course)

  • A sleeping bag

  • My boyfriend

  • A tenor guitar

If you could meet any jazz musician living or dead who would it be? 

Billie Holiday

If music wasn't your career path what would've you done? 

I would've been a history professor (And I still might try that eventually)